Last October InterVarsity Fellowship (not to be confused with InterVarsity Press), released a 20 page document further clarifying its 2012 statement of beliefs. In this new document IVF required staff to not only agree with the over-all mission statement and moral conduct of the organization, but to not hold any private reservations about the theological statements of IVF. Generally speaking, para-church organizations have adhered to broad doctrinal statements due to the nature of being inter-denominational, but this was not the case here.
By requiring its employees and volunteers to not only adhere to a certain code of conduct but to “think” a certain way as well, IVF forced a number of dedicated staff members to resign. These staff members were trusted friends and confidants of at risk young adults from the LGBTQ community. By doing so Gay teens and college age adults were left wondering if IVF cared about them, or understood their needs and fears. Although Gay marriage was the intended target the church will inadvertently suffer as a result as well. When the church cuts off dialogue and “faithful questioning” (Derek Flood) the result invariably is weakened, not strengthened faith.
A few thoughts on the subject:
First, egalitarian marriage is a Kingdom Principal. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Submission and headship, when applied as a male-dominant theme is neither Christ-like nor does it represent a one-size-fits-all plan for marriage. If it helps, think of Paul’s admonition on marriage as what a “good” Christian marriage looked like in the first century, but that times have changed. Egalitarian marriage has not only been resisted by a patriarchal society historically, but has continued to be vigorously attacked by the church even as Western society has moved on and recognized a woman’s equal worth.
Traditional marriage proponents rely as much on traditional and historical sexual mores as they do on Scripture and it is, indeed, those mores that influence their understanding of Scripture. Conservative Christianity has, for centuries, tried to replicate and keep alive the “household codes” of first century Christians.
Secondly, in building their argument against Same Sex Marriage, IVF, in their literature, refers repeatedly to Wesley Hill as a shining example of the Gay Christian’s “proper” lifestyle of celibacy. Having read “Washed and Waiting” I can assure you Mr. Hill is not necessarily representative of Gay Christians, nor does he deal exegetically with the texts. In fact, the over-all take away for me in reading his book that this poor man is dealing with a great deal of loneliness and unnecessary anguish heaped upon him by well meaning but ignorant Christians unaware of the toxicity their peculiar views on Scripture have on others.
In using Wesley Hill as an exemplary Gay Christian, IVF makes a mistake common to conservative Christianity, that of taking a specific person or circumstance and reapplying it to the whole. This over-simplification of people by assigning them to one group and making broad assumptions about them is why so many moderns refer to conservative Christians as bigoted.
Thirdly, IVF has lost the ability to deal with the emotional and spiritual needs of LGBT youth in a pastoral manner, instead treating these individuals as a theological problem that needs to be fixed. Ultimately this dehumanizes, demoralizes and cuts off communication with a group of individuals who have historically been demonized by Christians.
Lastly, IVF is seeking unity through forced conformity, a mistake the church has made for centuries. This is by far, I believe, the most damaging precedent set here for IVF. Historically the reason Protestants split from Catholicism is that the Catholic Church was unable to allow itself to be questioned. By attempting to control even the thoughts of its staff members, IVF has effectively stifled any opportunity for change, or as Derek Flood says, “unquestioned obedience” takes precedence. This may work well if we were building an army of clones, but when dialogue is stifled in the church it is hard to see how our individual gifts can be used. We need to be able to agree to disagree, yet come together for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. There is unity in diversity, something that IVF seems to have misunderstood.
Although, historically, IVF has taken a broad non-denominational stance on things like women in leadership, recognizing that various denominations that have a high-view of Scripture can differ significantly from each other, on same sex marriage they have made the decision to draw a line in the sand. This reflects the new test of orthodoxy within the far Right of Evangelicalism. It is my hope, that, in time IVF will reconsider its decision and allow more diversity of thought within its ranks so that it may present a more beautiful Gospel.
Justin Lee’s response to the IVF decision and critique of its “inconsistency problem” with the LGBT community: